Ask Andrew – My husband keeps denying and underplaying his infidelity
Firstly thank you for the knowledge and understand portrayed in your book ‘How can I ever trust you again’ which I am now reading for the second time together with ILYB. We have been in a relationship for 20 year but on reflection we have been leading very separate lives. There has always been a strong connection between us and outside of any conflict we have shared many happy moments. However on discovery of my Partners emotional affair we have been forced to review and take stock of who we both are and how we arrived at this moment.
I was an outgoing and sociable individual and had many friends and enjoyed the social outings that I shared with them. My partner however is more of a loner. Although he enjoys company he finds it difficult to make connections especially with making male friends. He does however connect very well with women and is popular and well liked by most of the women that he associates with through work. When we first met I was separated with 2 small children and he was like a knight in shining armour. He was attentive, caring and nothing was too much trouble which to be honest is the person he has remained throughout most of our relationship. During the initial stages of the relationship we were like any other couple starting out, no time spent together was enough and the physical side of our relationship was very good.
Once the relationship had settled into a more normal routine we started resenting each other’s lives outside of our relationship. Our roles seemed to settle into him being the major carer for both me and the children and my role was financial and organisational. My social life was my escape and I now understand the affects that this had on him being left at home with the children and why he was suspicious of my behaviour outside the home but which was only challenged in angry outbursts. However I have in my heart always loved him but never took the effort to show it. With the build of resentment the decline of our physical relationship began rapidly although he did still show affection and do small romantic things and take pleasure in arranging special trips etc. A few years into the relationship I suspected him of having an affair with female colleague with whom he worked closely with on a daily basis. He denied ever having a relationship with this person but his behaviour at the time was cold and unfeeling. He said he was just enjoying his job and the new lease of life it gave him. Some years later when the same behaviour patterns began to show I again accused him of having an affair but again he denied but I found text messages on his phone one Christmas which referred to possibility of them having an affair (this text was from the other women) his reply was “how could they” and there was some flirting text as well. He deleted the text when I was out and then denied that they had ever existed and asked me to show him what text I was referring to! At that time I had feelings for someone else at my workplace and although he made it clear that a relationship was what he wanted with me I never went there although I do admit to inappropriate flirting, making the right noises to keep him interested, teasing I suppose as I did enjoy the way he made me feel. On discovery of my Partners indiscretion however I confessed my feelings for this man and asked that we got our relationship back on track and made attempts to re-instate the physical side of our relationship but my attempts failed. We are argued for months over this but he never disclosed anything and said I was paranoid and he had only ever done good things in our relationship and I should look to myself as I was the problem. He continued to have contact with this women meeting her with other people for social events albeit not very often and said he could not wrong in this as he had done nothing wrong. I could see that I was some of the problem so I cut down on my socialising and tried to make the relationship work but we slipped back into old habits of never reaching conclusions to our arguments issues and the resentment on both sides continued to grow. During this time he had difficulties at work and had to move from the job he loved and went into a real decline which he has never really got over.
A couple of years ago I began to notice a change in him again the same as the last two times where he was cold and distant and creating arguments so that had excuses to spend time away from me usually upstairs in the loft room I began to notice the signs of an increased sexual activity in terms of personal gratification the same behaviour patterns as the previous time. He got more and more withdrawn and life at home at that time was not good. We had problem with one of our children who caused lots of rows at home, was smoking pot and leaving the house a mess, coming home either drunk or high and as he was the always the first one home he took the brunt and it was obvious that he was not dealing with it well. Then on checking our home e-mail at work one day I found some initial evidence and I knew then that all the fears gut feelings that I had been having over the past year were about to be proved. When I got home he had deleted the e-mail so that confirmed my suspicions but when I confronted him he again denied and said she was just a person he worked with who was having a hard time and he just wanted to reassure her but that was all. He conceded that it was an appropriate message but said that that was all there was nothing in more to the relationship. I could not let go and it all finally came to ahead when I accused him of being in affair which again he denied. I told him I could not live like this and the relationship was over which he readily agreed to. I moved to another bedroom and he appeared the happiest he had been in ages. One night I lost control and confronted him again and ending up attacking him. He remained uncharacteristically calm and said I was a paranoid, sad individual and again that I should look to myself as I was the one who had caused all the problems. We separated for a week after that but he came home when I asked him too. I tried everything to get him to own up but he always denied and then I started noticing that this phone was switched off or hidden and nothing in our relationship had changed. He did not want physical relations and he remained distant. My mental health was visibly deteriorating during this time with the whole family concerned as to my welfare. He says he could see this but could do nothing about it at that time. I eventually discovered evidence which he could not deny and after several attempts to deny the facts he confessed but only to what I could prove. He was exceptionally cruel at this point using things like what he saw as her physical beauty and attributes against me saying that I very little in comparison and I was left feeling totally worthless and insignificant. The pattern of withholding continued for the next two years with me turning investigator to get to the facts but when they appeared again he only confessed to those facts and nothing else. At one point I thought we were making progress when he sent me some e-mails that had passed between them and he said he wanted to be honest from that point. Then I discovered evidence of further contact in the form of cards and I told him it was over, he pleaded with me to give him another chance he wanted to save our relationship and he then gave me access to all his e-mails where I discovered that the some of the ones he had initially sent he had doctored so they made him more innocent. Even after this destruction he continued to lie even when I asked him direct questions but the evidence kept coming and each time I went straight back to square one with my emotions. I discovered that she had ended the relationship prior to the time he left me and most of the e-mail and text were about how he felt and how he could not give up on their relationship, declarations of love in which he used our special moments and part of the letter he was writing to reflect his feelings for her. Although she never agreed to meet with him again she obviously enjoyed the attention. He says that he never slept with her although she gave him opportunity to do so because he think i was always at the back of his mind and the relationship never went beyond kissing. I discovered only recently that he had met at least once alone with 2nd women and when I gave him the evidence he again denied it and watched me unravel in front of him for 20 minutes before he finally conceded the truth but then played down the importance say she was never a threat it was only that once. I was at an all time low at this point, no self confidence, my work was suffering, I became very withdrawn with difficulty sleeping and even functioning but if I got upset or emotional he would shout me down and usually leave overnight if possible and then refuse to discuss the issues or tell me I was the one damaging the relationship. He would sometimes threaten suicide when I got upset a couple of times even getting a rope out in front of me and trying to hang himself on the stairs.
I have tried to get him to be honest about his past but can say that I have a real roller coaster of emotions, sometimes calm, sometimes hysterical, and sometimes numb. At the beginning I just wanted to show him that I loved but all the lies have eroded my feelings towards him and now although I know I still love him I find it increasingly hard to express any physical feeling towards him. He is sorry I can see that and hurting but something keeps me thinking what about the past, am I being taken for a mug, do I still live with liar who has already confessed that he did what he did out of self protection for him only. He had a very hard childhood neglected and in a very dysfunctional family and he has a very low self esteem most of the time. He has confessed that he enjoyed flirting with women and finds the attention and the empathy he gets from them satisfying. He says he has talked about our relationship and family situation with these women and has confesses to an inappropriate relationship with the 2nd suspected affair and whilst she wanted more he did not. He also says that the 1st women did want more from him also but he never thought of her like and that, she was like his sister and he took her to buy my engagement ring and Christmas presents.!
I struggle with all the “I don’t know” and “I don’t remember” that still exist. We are trying to be more open and things do move a little but then one of us will lose it and we are back to the beginning. I have contact flashbacks and triggers which send me into myself shutting him out. We have had some relationship counselling but that just seemed to work on the premise that we had sorted most of differences and just need help to rebuild the relationship. We then had individual counselling but my experience was different to his in as much as my counsellor put an objective view from both sides. His two separate counsellors appears to side with him sighting his past as the reasons he behaves the way he does. His childhood was traumatic to say the least and I have always understood most of his behaviour but when it impacts on our recovery I can see no benefit to not providing him with solutions to his problems during counselling. The latest has even told him to tell me he will never talk about the affair again and to just walk away from me when I need to talk and even discussed exit with him. Neither of us want that, we just need guidance and some solutions to our communication problems. He is trying to open up but finds it hard and against his instincts and my need to understand and the nagging gut feelings that he has still not disclosed all aspects of his past in our relationship are damaging I am aware of that. We both see why we got where we got but to get beyond this point is proving a challenge and no one seems to be able to give us advice which will benefit our communication problems which I think would lead to transparency on both sides without the need to defend. Your book is very good and has been a starting platform but sometimes we interpret the information differently and would benefit from your perspective.
What a roller-coaster! I have been facilitating between horror (the rope and threatened suicide) and hope (the level of understanding and sympathy that you have expressed about his childhood) but eventually I come to one question to ask you: What is stopping him from being honest with you?
I think this question will probably have several answers. Firstly, I wonder how the significant people in his childhood responded to him telling the truth? (Something dramatic if he is getting out a rope!) My guess is that he coped with difficult parents by being a people pleaser and telling them what they wanted to know or to curry favour. So talk about his childhood through this lens and understand why he is terrified of confrontation (probably for very good reasons). Secondly, how have you responded if he tells you something you’d rather not hear. Start with trivial stuff, for example, he wants to watch one TV show but you’d rather have another. Next build up to undisputed stuff about his friendships with other women. Would he rather edit reality and keep the peace than deal with the conflict?And if so why?
Next, I’d like to share a comment from a cagey man in my counselling room whose wife wanted details of his affair and his over-friendly relationships with women in general: What’s the incentive for me to confess? He felt that if he gave any details, he would provide fresh ammunition for his wife to lob at him. So ask yourself, could he have good reasons to be wary of telling me the truth? Your letter touches on a couple of incidents that, if in counselling, I would want to look further into. Has some of your behaviour bordered on the abusive or crossed that line? Once again, have you reinforced his childhood belief of ‘keep you head down and hope it goes away’?
Finally, I think you should look at how this feeds into your ghosts from the past. Your divorce from your first husband. Your childhood etc. I think you’ll find that both of you suffer from low-self esteem and have, at times, used cheap attention to give yourself a boost (although in the long-term it just creates more problems).
So what should you do? I think you need to focus on improving communication today. So he can be honest about day-to-day niggles and you can begin to trust that he will put his hand up if he’s slipping into the zone where an inappropriate relationship seems the only answer. (See ‘Resolve your differences’ and ‘Help your partner say yes’ for learning to be ‘real’ rather than ‘people pleasing’.) I think you will have to let go of the some of this burning need to know about the past affairs. In the ideal world, you would negotiate knowing a few key matters and letting the rest drop (because ultimately what matters is future honesty rather than clearing up old grievances). So my final feelings….. it’s going to be tough but ultimately I come down on the side of hope. Good luck.